From my impressions and ideas so far, I really enjoy where Wizards’ is going with Khans of Tarkir. Delve is a sweet mechanic in general, and in spite of
how dangerous I feel cards such as Treasure Cruise and Dig Through Time are in Eternal formats, at the very least they’re exciting dangerous cards, not
annoying as hell ones like True-Name Nemesis.
However, this set has a lot more to offer than just our two new card-drawing overlords. There are a ton of cards with very open-ended effects, there are
quite a few build-around-mes at a power level that at least looks like it should be enough to allow them to see play in Standard, and the whole set looks
and feels a lot like we’re finally moving back towards synergy-driven gameplay instead of the “who can find the biggest threat” fest of the last couple of
The clearest sign to me how well-designed this set actually is, is the fact that I find myself wondering about applications for cards in formats I usually
never touch, considering brews and interactions that don’t have a chance of flying in Legacy or Vintage because of how powerful the competition is but that
just look awesome enough to capture my imagination anyway.
So instead of my typical very Legacy focused brew review, we’ll be straying a little further this time, looking at those Khans of Tarkir cards I really
like and applications I can imagine for them in whichever format I feel they might be worth it. I hope you enjoy the show!
It seems like people are sleeping on Sultai Ascendancy. Sultai Ascendancy turns every single one of your draw steps into a Preordain with the upside of
filling your graveyard. This is likely the most powerful library manipulation enchantment since Sylvan Library – and the effect is actually better than
that of Sylvan, which is mainly pushed over the top by the cheaper mana cost and its ability to draw extra cards in exchange for superfluous life points.
Sylvan Library is quite the card though, so being slightly worse than it isn’t really a bad sign in formats where you don’t get to play with the original
The power level on this one is roughly that of Phyrexian Arena I’d estimate and given that a slower, less mana efficient Phyrexian Arena was one of the
strongest card drawing tools in the last Standard (Underworld Connections), I’d be very surprised if Sultai Ascendancy didn’t prove to be very good in
Magic’s most played Constructed format, likely as the best enabler for a delve-abusing Sultai midrange or control deck.
Speaking of delve, this is the first card from the set that had me really excited when it hit the spoiler. Empty the Pits is an incredible finisher very
much along the lines of Psychatog but with a better conversion rate. Every card in your graveyard and every additional mana beyond BBBB you spent gets you
a point of damage – that’s pretty ridiculous, once you think about it. It proved a little too clunky for Legacy – five zombies isn’t as impressive as it
sounds on turn 5 or 6 when people are casting Show and Tell and Stoneforge Mystic – and has since been completely overshadowed by Dig Through Time and
Treasure Cruise for that format. However, I expect to see this as the dedicated finishing move in Standard in the Sultai’s delve deck I alluded to just
above, and I wouldn’t be surprised to see it make an appearance in Modern if Dig Through Time and Treasure Cruise don’t eat up all the graveyard cards
This might be a reasonable starting point if we’re planning to go all-in on the graveyard abuse theme for Standard:
This is obviously a very rough draft, not helped particularly by the fact that I haven’t had experience with Standard for a long time now. However, the
core synergies seems strong enough to be very much worth exploring. What you’re trying to do is to use your two and three mana enablers to fill the
graveyard while providing a lot of card quality – especially in digging to your core defensive threats in Pharika and Sidisi. Once one of those is set up,
you can hopefully start making a bunch of tokens to control the board with until you can either draw into or Nyx Weaver back an Empty the Pits to lethal
the opponent with on the spot.
The manabase I provided is probably terrible (I’m not used to working with fetchlands that don’t have dual lands to search up), the mix of removal likely
has to be reworked once we know what the format ends up looking like, and the curve is a bit clustered on the three spot between the removal spells and our
eight three mana enablers, but just imagining the frustration of an opponent who’s trying to crack a board that constantly gets reflooded with Zombies and
deathtouch Snakes makes me want to see this in action.
The Sweetest Card In The Set
As high as I am on Dig Through Time and Treasure Cruise, my favorite card in the set is one I likely won’t be sleeving up in Legacy:
I’m utterly flabbergasted that no one is talking about this card. The untap and pump combination means that all of your instants become combat tricks, and
if the power of Ponder and Preordain has taught us anything, it should be obvious that tagging a loot onto every non-creature spell we cast is quite
powerful. The sweetest thing about the card is how much it screams “efficient engine enabler” to my old-school eyes, though untapping all your creatures
whenever you cast a spell is a pretty insane effect to have access to, especially as it comes with some neat additional benefits.
For Standard, I imagine Jeskai Ascendancy could easily be the centerpiece of a token-convoke deck that deploys Ascendancy, makes a bunch of tokens on turn
4 and wins with those and Ascendancy triggers on turn 5. Basically I’m looking at this core:
It’s too bad Young Pyromancer just left the building, but even without that, this should enable some pretty busted curve outs. Turn 2 Raise the Alarm into
turn 3 Hordeling Outburst followed by turn 4 Jeskai Ascendancy, convoke out Stoke the Flames and Triplicate Spirits and attack for fifteen sounds
ridiculously powerful and there are a number of different variations on that theme abusing the convoke mechanic.
Maybe I’m just too much a sucker for powerful synergies, but flooding the board with tokens early to get paid off by either Jeskai Ascendancy or Howl of
the Horde into Stoke the Flames (with an honorable mention to Obelisk of Urd that sadly will only buff one type of token) a turn or two later sounds like
something that should easily have enough raw power to hang with other Standard decks.
Another angle this could work very well with – and that might be possible to combine with the above if you cut a couple of outliers, such as Obelisk and/or
Hordeling Outburst, is the heroic mechanic. You’ll already be playing a number of creatures you’d be happy to untap and pump during your opponent’s attack
step, and you’ll also want a large number of cheap spells to trigger heroic with anyway. You even get cheap cantripping, non-creature spells that synergize
well with what you’re trying to do in the Theros cantrip auras and Defiant Strike. Having Daring Thief in a deck that can repeatedly untap it and has easy
access to tokens through Triplicate Spirits and Akroan Crusader also seems quite filthy.
Finally there is another Standard possibility I’m really hoping to see in this little trinity:
Astral Slide was a sweet board control deck way back when Onslaught Block was Standard legal and these could combine to form a similar deck. Both
Goblinslide and Quiet Contemplation are excellent ways to keep the board under control temporarily so that you can stall into End Hostilities or a similar
sweeper, and the Ascendancy provides the filtering necessary to make sure you won’t flood out. It also happens to turn your Goblins into an actual
threatening win condition rather quickly. Use a ton of removal to trigger all three enchantments, round out with a couple of threats of your own and some
card-drawing to keep the cheap spells flowing (Dig Through Time and Treasure Cruise clamor for attention again) and you might well end up with a
serviceable deck. Maybe you can even combine that approach with the token core above thusly:
All these ideas for Standard aside, the first thing I thought when I saw Jeskai Ascendancy wasn’t convoke or heroic. It was “Oh crap, Birds of Paradise.”
If you have Jeskai Ascendancy and a mana creature out, your one mana spells are suddenly free and everything more expensive gets a one mana discount – and
you also get a free loot whenever you cast one. Assuming you can cast enough spells using that engine, the Ascendancy even provides a possible win
condition as that mana accelerant will reach twenty power eventually. That sounds ridiculously good with one mana cantrips and even more insane with free
spells like Gitaxian Probe and Manamorphose.
I understand that you need to run four colors to pull this off, and I’m not sure if Standard has either the manabase or the cantrips to try to move in on
that approach, but Modern should easily have all the necessary tools available (not really considering it for Legacy as combo decks have a much higher bar
to climb there, what with Tendrils of Agony and Show and Tell alive and kicking).
This is what my first draft looks like:
I’m not sure if this is what the deck is really supposed to look like – it might be that you want to start off a little more midrangy, especially with some
Lightning Bolts for removal and use the Ascendancy/mana accelerant interaction mainly as an engine to supercharge a Young Pyromancer tempo strategy or that
on the contrary non-dedicated things like Young Pyromancer simply don’t have a place in the deck. I can say that from I’ve learned from the couple of games
I’ve played with it is that the engine of mana accelerants and cantrips to surround Jeskai Ascendancy are very powerful. Getting to play as many cantrips
as you can find during a single turn really gets out of hand quickly, especially because the Ascendancy’s extra-loots make it reasonably easy to hit the
next cantrip or Treasure Cruise (for which they fill the graveyard quite nicely) to keep you going.
For the moment, the deck seems a little slow to get going compared to traditional Modern Storm, but the engine is incredibly consistent at digging you
through most or all of your deck once it gets going. So if you’re looking for an engine piece that can really go off like we did back in the nineties for
Standard and Modern, Jeskai Ascendancy is definitely where I’d start investigating.
Those are the big groups of cards I have definite ideas for, though there are a number of other cards that get the gears turning.
I already talked about how good I think these will be in Legacy at length last week, but I just wanted to mention
here that between fetchlands, Serum Visions, Sleight of Hand and Gitaxian Probe, Modern also has most of the tools necessary to enable them, so I expect to
see a splash there too, though maybe a slightly smaller one. The cantrips are so much worse that they’re harder to force into all kinds of shells, after
Even in Standard, I’d expect Dig Through Time to be the control draw-engine of choice and to see Treasure Cruise cast a reasonable amount. Yes, your
graveyard fills slower, but the format requirements are also much less stringent. Paying four mana for either of these is still a good deal in Standard,
and dedicated decks like my Sultai concoction above will still manage to fully enable them quite early. If you aren’t trying to find ways to get these into
your decks, now is the time to start.
This enables some interesting Saffi Eriksdotter shenanigans if you have a sacrifice outlet that actually does something like Blasting Station. Probably not
good enough compared to Melira synergies but worth mentioning. Hordemate is definitely more likely to provide value than Melira if drawn naturally, at
Set Adrift provides an interesting alternative to Void Snare for combo decks that want an answer to hatebears (especially ones running Burning Wish) and
other annoying permanents. Because of the high mana cost pre-delve this dodges Counterbalance quite nicely, and the delve itself allows it to ignore
Thalia, Guardian of Thraben at the cost of an additional graveyard card. The card going to the top of their library instead of their hand can also be a
huge boon against something like Aven Mindcensor or an active Aether Vial. Definitely a card to keep in mind.
Too bad this isn’t a zombie just for the potential to combine it with Gravecrawler. Note that you can buy this back as often as you can pay for once you
have raid enabled for the turn, giving you a machine gun with Goblin Bombardment that doesn’t rely on any tribal shenanigans. The effect is definitely
powerful in something Sam Black would build ( something he began working on last week), though I’m not sure if two mana
is going to fly in Legacy. Definitely interesting for Modern Dredgevine as an additional pay off creature.
I got pretty excited for Dark Prophecy last year, but in the end that didn’t turn out to be worth it at all. Grim Haruspex has a couple of important
upsides though. First, it’s already a creature with a decent body so you don’t feel as bad about drawing it in a deck not dedicated to abuse it. It also
has a much more affordable mana cost and the morph helps with tricking opponents into killing something else first. It’s also quite a bit tougher to really
break though, because of the non-token clause. I don’t see this shaking up Legacy, but I wouldn’t be surprised to see it turn up on Saturday coverage to
I just want to point out that this is what a ferocious card should look like. If you don’t have a big creature, you get a not exciting yet solid card –
Blaze – and with ferocious active, this is every reasonable Standard burn spell rolled into one. On one it’s a Shock, at two it’s a Lightning Strike, at
three it’s a painless Char, and from four mana onwards it actually outperforms set damage spells such as Lightning Blast or Lava Axe. I love that kind of
awesome flexibility, and Crater’s Claws looks like a great tool for a Standard ramp deck.
It’s nice to get this at 1R finally instead of RR just because we’re definitely moving in the right direction there, but it’s still enough worse than
Night’s Whisper and Sign in Blood that this type of red spell will hopefully get pushed yet a little more in the future. If we ever get this for R or a
version that makes the discard part of the effect so as to make this straight up draw two when empty-handed we might finally end up with a decent red
library manipulation tool for Legacy to reduce the pressure of playing blue. Given that Wild Guess has seen essentially no play even in Standard, I don’t
think WOTC would be taking too much of a risk with either version.
I mentioned this with Stoke the Flames above already, and the card demands a rather specific set of conditions to be good (enough cheap creatures and
powerful enough instants/sorceries to be worth copying), Howl’s effect is actually quite busted if you can enable raid. I could see this making an
appearance in both U/R Delver and Burn in Legacy in some number just because it combines so incredibly well with Fireblast – twelve damage for three mana
is nothing to sneeze at! Copying Treasure Cruise or Price of Progress for fun and profit also sound like something we might be interested in doing at some
Invigorate is probably too good to make this a consideration for Legacy Infect, especially as you really don’t need the full six points of pump most of the
time. In Modern, however, this plus Mutagenic Growth plus an exalted trigger or previous attack for one is lethal so I’d be surprised if it doesn’t turn up
This has been talked about a little, but I don’t see how this being immune to Abrupt Decay and Counterbalance (largely) is worth not playing Nimble
Mongoose, Treasure Cruise, or even Tombstalker instead. This will, after all, be smaller than a Goyf a lot of the time.
Abzan decks might actually be interested in a clunky removal spell that doubles as a Night’s Whisper.
If only there was no True-Name Nemesis, I could see this actually being a possibility in Legacy as a one- or two-of high end for Temur Delver in some
Could this turn out to be Standard’s mini-Divining Top with fetchlands and Scry all in the format?
So let me get this straight. MUD gets a card that is easy to Workshop out, disables the Time Vault combo, and is extremely powerful as fodder for Goblin
Welder and Kuldotha Forgemaster? Seems pretty busted in Vintage, but given enough sac outlets, this should also be decent in Legacy.
I don’t think this is really going to fly but combining this with Oblivion Ring, Leonin Relic-Warder, and related effects leads to a four card combo that
will mill the opponent out on the spot using only cards that have decent utility all by themselves (other than the Altar, of course). The commitment of a
one mana spell might be low enough that a deck that wants to go for that as an endgame option could actually come up at some point in the future if there’s
a deck that wants enough of the temporary exile effects anyway.
I’m not listing these because I think we should play them, I just wanted to share my suspicion that Tarkir is the world that’s going to get devastated by
the Eldrazi at some point to later turn into Zendikar, what with the references to Ugin and the hints at future colorless matters cards in parallel to Eye
of Ugin in Worldwake.
Khan You Feel It?
Yep, that’s a lot of stuff I feel worth mentioning, and I’m sure I missed a couple of sweet ones. Khans of Tarkir really looks awesome especially given how
much it deviates from the “cast big powerful threat to win game” philosophy we’ve had coming out of Renton for a while now. Yes, there’s strong stuff to
do, but a lot of it relies on being enabled properly or synergizing with the other cards you’ve decided to put into your deck.
I don’t know about you, but I find synergy driven Magic much more enticing to watch and play then the click and point battlecruiser Magic epitomized by
cards such as the Titans, Elspeth, Sun’s Champion, Geist of Saint Traft, or Pack Rat, so I’m quite excited to see this unfold. All that and we even get the
fetchlands as a bonus to help make entering Legacy and Modern much less demanding financially – how could I not love this set?